Over the last few days, a bribery allegation has shaken the Appointment Committee of Parliament.
The MP who made this allegation, Mahama Ayariga, (NDC-Bawku Central) has accused the Minister-designate for Energy, Boakye Agyarko, of passing a bribe of GHS 3000 each through the First Deputy Speaker, Mr. Joseph Osei-Owusu (NPP-Bekwai) to lure the minority side of the committee to approve him after they initially withheld his approval based on certain grounds.
According to Mr Ayariga, the said money was given to them during a closed-door evaluation meeting on his candidature in the guise of sitting allowance.
Speaker Professor Mike Oquaye’s decision to set up a 5-member committee to investigate the bribery allegations is highly commendable. It supports his stance that “a law maker cannot be a law breaker”.
We however urge Professor Oquaye to make the enquiry public. An open enquiry could be the first step towards reversing the unfortunate Parliamentary practice of closing the majority of committee sittings to the public by default.
In “The Report on the Sixth Parliament of Ghana’s Fourth Republic,” we found, based on data gathered from 1,500 reports of 21 Parliamentary Committees, that citizens and stakeholder groups were consulted by Parliament’s committees during only 3.7% of their meetings. To be more transparent and guard against corruption, Parliament must open its committees to greater public scrutiny.
Ultimately, while commendable, the Speaker’s committee will not be able to punish any culprits should the allegation of bribery be proved. The constitution limits the powers of Parliamentary Committees to the powers of a high court in relation to:
“(a) enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, affirmation or otherwise;
(b) compelling the production of documents; and
(c) issuing a commission or request to examine witnesses abroad.
Parliament can therefore not charge or punish any potential culprits for criminal or civil offences. The only remedies Parliament can apply are political – the charge of contempt of Parliament and a decision to withhold approval pending an apology as it did in the case of John Oti Bless, Prof Alex Dodoo and others, or an outright decision to reject the nomination of the minister-designate.
By approving Mr. Boakye Agyarko’s nomination, Parliament has already made the latter remedy impossible. Given the seriousness of the charge of bribing Parliamentarians, it is the only political remedy which we believe would have been appropriate. But even that would not be sufficient.
The attempted bribery of Members of Parliament, is a direct insult to the people of Ghana. It sends a message that the interests of the people of Ghana, people whose businesses collapsed, people whose relatives died due to dumsor, are worth the paltry sum of GHS 3000 per MP.
The constitution, in its wisdom made provision for a situation as egregious as this, in which an individual’s contempt of Parliament also constitutes a criminal or civil offence.
Article 123 of the 1992 Constitution States:
“Where an act or omission which constitutes contempt of Parliament is an offence under the criminal law, the exercise by Parliament of the power to punish for contempt shall not be a bar to the institution of proceedings under the criminal law.”
The constitution also protects statements made on the floor of Parliament from any potential charges of defamation or indeed any other civil or criminal charges. Unfortunately for Mahama Ayariga however, his allegations were made on a radio station and repeated on his public facebook profile. They do not fall under this exemption.
We therefore urge the MPs accused of serving as conduits of this bribe to proceed to the courts of law to clear their names. It is particularly important that Mr. Joseph Osei-Owusu, who is First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, and one of the highest-ranking MPs in Ghana, takes full advantage of all opportunities to exonerate his name, and punish anyone involved in criminality or defamation to the fullest extent of the law.
The integrity of Parliament and the authority of its leadership depends on a clear, swift and unequivocal resolution of this matter.